One Domestic Situation To Another
As a child, I grew up with the privilege of having a loving family. Thus I was allowed to be ignorant to the traumatic and detrimental impact domestic violence could have on a family. Never having seen my parents argue or fight against each other, I staunchly believed that people who abuse their partners only existed on television or in the most extreme dysfunctional families.
As I matured, I gradually realized that domestic violence was a more widespread, common social problem than I had thought. In fact, over 20% of women and around 7% of men in the US reported having been physically abused by their partner during their lifetime in a 2000 report.
As a Policy and Research Intern at the Mental Health Association of Rhode Island, my job is to investigate the mental health delivery system as it relates to the vulnerable populations of Rhode Island, such as those experiencing homelessness, domestic violence, or criminalization. One project that I've been working on is evaluating the availability of mental health care and support facilities to women who experienced domestic abuse. Understandably, those who experience domestic violence become vulnerable to mental illness such as depression, post traumatic stress disorder, and other anxiety disorders along with substance abuse problems, and our mission is to evaluate whether this population is receiving adequate mental health support.
In order to do so, I visited various agencies within Rhode Island that may provide services for women who experienced abuse, including a domestic violence shelter outside Providence called the Sojourner House. My plan was to interview as many survivors of domestic violence as possible.
The Sojourner House domestic violence shelter looked nothing like the name would otherwise suggest. It was a nice, clean 2-story house, and unless I was given the address I would never have guessed that it was a shelter for domestic abuse survivors.
At the shelter I had the opportunity to speak to women from many different backgrounds. One lady was at the shelter with her child for the second time. Another was a college student escaping her abuser while working on her degree. There was also a pregnant girl who was just about the age of a high school graduate, fleeing her abuser from a different state. She was only a year older than my little sister.
Talking to these women, I realized that joining a domestic violence shelter is only the start of the battle. As one woman expressed in our interview, joining a shelter is like "going from one domestic situation to another". A constant lack of shelter space means not only a long waiting list for new survivors looking for help, but also shorter stays for current residents. Ironically, one lady even mentioned that she feels more security with her abuser than at the shelters: at home, she would endure one fight a week, but she would also have a home, with access to a car, clothes, and her own furniture. At the shelter, she feels constantly threatened of being kicked out. For those who don’t have an adequate support system such as close families or friends, this means choosing between the abuser and homelessness.
Working as a policy and research intern opened my eyes to an entirely new aspect of mental health care. It provided a fresh reminder that better psychiatric care doesn’t always involve breakthroughs in neuroscience or training better physicians, but rather allocating a limited amount of resources to provide the best care to the populations that most need them.
I hope that my work here could eventually culminate in policy recommendations to the state, and serve to raise awareness of what people need as survivors of domestic violence.